Big Media Tracy

Matt Bai of the NY Times has a blog post up about my friend Tracy Russo,  who was the Edwards’ campaigns main blogger. It’s a pretty on-point story about what it’s like to be a staffer for a campaign that’s just ended and a lot of it resonated with my experience starting the process of decompressing after the Dodd campaign.

Anger & Bluster

Lambert at Corrente makes a great case, a la Mike Caulfield, that sides matter in American politics.

Do we really need the kind of politics that tells us to lay back and enjoy it?

The country can’t afford to wait for Obama to discover that his strategy of conciliation has failed. Do the math. Reid and Pelosi tried “reaching out” in 2007. Nothing will happen in 2008. Assuming Obama takes office in 2009, it will take his conciliatory strategy a year to fail, which it will, since he’s doing the same thing Reid and Pelosi did while expecting a different result.

That brings us to 2010.

Can the country really hold out against a runaway Conservative Movement that long? [Emphasis in the original]

Go read the whole piece, it’s a great argument aimed at convincing Obama that we need partisanship.

SFT’s Facebook Challenge

Facebook Causes has been running a giving challenge over the last 49 days. The contest, sponsored by The Case Foundation, has been phenomenally interesting to watch. The challenge is simple: what Facebook cause can collect the donations from the most unique individuals over the course of 50 days. There are smaller contests for you can get the most donors in a 24 hour period, but tomorrow the contest will conclude and the first prize of $50,000 will be awarded.

What’s interesting about the challenge is the groups that have engaged it. The lead for the total prize has gone back and forth for the last few weeks between Students for a Free Tibet, an organization that I have been working with for eight years (two years full time on staff), and an Oklahoma-based organization called Love Without Boundaries, which works with Chinese orphans.

The challenge ends tomorrow at 3 PM Eastern and it looks like it will go right down to the wire.

facebook causes giving challenge
My friends at SFT are running a live stream of their efforts organizing to continue to turn out donors on a new site called Mogulus. Their use of Mogulus is by itself an incredibly savvy way to drive traffic to their Facebook page.

The Tibetan Freedom Movement, SFT’s cause for the giving challenge, has over 4,750 members. 2,190 of those members have donated at least once, and counting. Since I took the screen cap five minutes ago, 150 more people have donated in support of Tibetan freedom. That is one of the highest members to donors conversation rates on Facebook causes. Over the last 49 days, SFT has raised over $60,000 through the challenge, including enough individual donations in 24 hour periods to win nine days.

Students for a Free Tibet is not a big organization. When I worked there, only four other people were on staff in the New York headquarters (now there are six staffers in HQ). In my years, the annual budget was around $350,000; it was closer to $400,000 this year. If SFT wins out in the challenge, they will likely have raised over 25% of their budget in 50 days, a truly incredible output for such a small organization. By contrast, LWB had a budget of $1.2 million last year, four times larger than SFT.

What makes the Facebook Causes challenge interesting is how it has driven organizations like SFT to put in energy to attract new donors. I’ve been able to get a lot of my friends and family to donate, in part because asking for $10 that can be turned into $50,000 is pretty easy. Beyond the small ask, SFT is small enough that the amount of money being raised and up for grabs in the top prize is great enough that it is worth the effort for the staff to put a great deal of energy recruiting more donors. No large organizations or their supporters are pursuing this prize (though the League of Young Voters briefly did).

SFT is doing really creative things to bring in new donors. Campuses around the world have tabled with laptops and wifi to get people to donate on the spot. There have been donation parties. Last night in New York, there was a happy hour* with laptops set up in the bar and people on hand to help facilitate Facebook novices to install the Causes application. People are asking friends and family – this week both my parents joined Facebook and donated to SFT. The contest has been an incentive to innovate and do outreach in new ways and SFT has clearly risen to the challenge.

Winning the Facebook Causes challenge and getting the $50,000 grand prize would also be remarkable for the fact that SFT has never received a single donation that large in its entire existence. Only once has SFT received a grant larger than $50,000. This is not a wealthy organization, but they know how to make every penny count.

With all that in mind, I’m pulling for SFT and will be helping them however I can. I hope regular readers of this site will consider donating $10 to the Tibetan Freedom Movement by 3 PM Eastern tomorrow through Facebook.

If you’re a Facebook member, just go to this link and donate: Your $10 could be worth $50,000 by this time tomorrow.

*The New York Times utterly failed to grasp the diverse ways SFT supporters are raising money. They described a “keg party” which didn’t exist (it’s unclear if it was the NY happy hour or a gathering in Montreal that had mentioned there would be beer and other refreshments offered). The NYT article gives no attention to why SFT was having success with its student donor base, nor did they bother to contact SFT to talk about what was being done to keep pace with the larger LWB. It’s my understanding that SFT is pursuing a correction to the Times article and will be submitting a letter to the editor in response to their shoddy and potentially outcome-changing article.

Mike Caulfield’s Right

Mike Caulfield, co-founder of Blue Hampshire, included this passage in a comment here on my first post on Bob Cesca and blogger endorsements.

I’m not interested in helping either of these candidates win at this point. I’m interested in helping them be better candidates. That means applying pressure to Obama to stop his fetishization of unity (which I’ve been complaining about since before he was a candidate).

It also means applying pressure to Clinton to apply that dogged (some would say bullying) style to the opposition, and help us fight the battles that matter.

Or to kind of take off on what Eli said — to make sure Clinton is on our side, and to make Obama realize sides matter.

I’m into doing whatever it takes to get that done. The question at this point is not who is the better candidate, but how do we make both of these candidates better. [Emphasis added]

That’s a great way to think about the impact we can have on candidates that we might not be ready to endorse. It may be that one of them actually is a better candidate, but that’s clear, working to make them both better is important. That’s what I’ve tried to do with my writing since I started this site, at least.

More on Bloggers & Endorsements

I wanted to add another layer to my response to Bob Cesca’s call for blogger endorsements of Barack Obama.

One of the reasons we probably haven’t seen more blogger endorsements of the presidential candidates is that, contrary to media narratives about our field, this is not the greatest assembly of Democratic pols ever. Yes, there are true celebrities in Obama and Clinton, experienced hands in Dodd, Biden, and Richardson, and a man who did all he could to make economic populism a national platform. But all of them have weakness, from a lack of experience (or a lack of the right kind of experience), to recently found progressive ideals, to a history of corporatist principles, to being too senatorial and so on. There are things I deeply respect and admire with every one of our candidates, but as far as it goes, I think no one was really offering the complete package grassroots and netroots activists were looking for, which is the best explanation for why we haven’t seen more endorsements.

By contrast, I look at our farm team for the next couple of elections and I see candidates that may well be more exciting and dynamic, with a wide range of backgrounds than our current crop. Governors Eliot Spitzer, Martin O’Malley, Ted Strickland, Kathleen Sebelius, and Brian Schweitzer, along with Senators Jim Webb and John Tester are all people worth looking at seriously. There’s also always the hope that progressive lions like Russ Feingold, Al Gore or Howard Dean would consider running for the presidency.

It’s hard to look at any Democratic politician and see perfection. I never thought Chris Dodd was perfect, but I saw him as the best person for the job. I worked hard for him, but we didn’t win. I’m not prepared to endorse now that it’s a two person race any more than I was prepared to endorse when it was a three or four person race.

I’m left wondering, if you’re not willing to give your full support to a candidate, is it worth it endorsing for the sake of endorsing?

Senate Updates

Senate Democrats are meeting today to strategize around FISA, while negotiations take place between Senators Reid and McConnell over what the legislative calendar will look like.

Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker has a good update on the negotiations between Democratic and Republican leadership in the Senate on how to proceed with consideration of amendments to the Intel bill. Apparently the big sticking point is the Dodd/Feingold amendment to strip retroactive immunity from the SSCI bill. The Republicans don’t want to give it a vote, the Democrats do want to give it a vote.

Harry Reid has reportedly expressed a need to have Senators Clinton and Obama back in the Senate and off the campaign trail during this fight.

“I probably can’t get them back here ’til Monday, but I do need them back,” Reid said of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the two Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination. Other Democrats, notably Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass, hit the campaign trail as a surrogate for Obama.

He said the FISA update would take one “long legislative day” but could be accomplished.

That would be true provided there is no filibuster by Senator Dodd of a bad bill that includes retroactive immunity. A filibuster would markedly prolong the process.
Cross posted at the CREDO Blog.

Bloggers Don’t Have to Choose

Bob Cesca is one of my favorite bloggers. The “Morning Awesome” series of posts is alway an awesome way to start my morning. Cesca’s very pro-Obama, as I’ve noticed a few other people are too. However, following John Edwards’ exit from the presidential race yesterday, Cesca offers up an unrestrained call for endorsements in a post titled, “Bloggers Must Choose, Too.” (UPDATE: I retooled this sentence on further reflection. Cesca’s not jumping the shark, he’s just providing a case for bloggers to endorse Obama that I think is unconvincing.)

I was thinking… It’s also time for the major bloggers to get behind one of the remaining candidates. I know the unspoken strategy has been to avoid pissing off a reader-base which may have taken many years to build, but this is only the future of the party we’re talking about here.

I don’t know that the major bloggers have avoided endorsing a candidate out of fears of losing readership. Quite the opposite. Many people have written about the experience of regularly being accused of shilling for one candidate, then the other (a sign of a pissed off reader-base) specifically because they have not made an endorsement. Digby shut down her comments section, things got so bad. Others, like eRiposte at The Left Coaster, have found solace in making an endorsement, clarifying their position for readers who know what to expect going in. Cesca is advancing a theory of traffic-related reasons for avoiding endorsements that has been trafficked in by a lot of people who wish the major bloggers were endorsing their candidate (which Cesca gets to later). However, no major blogger I’ve seen has ever written or said that they’re not endorsing because of traffic. Cesca’s preface of “unspoken” is a fig leaf in his argument.

Moreover, I have no clue how a blogger endorsing or not endorsing one of the Democratic candidates has any bearing on the future of the party. Cesca doesn’t explain and I think he’d be hard-pressed to tie even the most influential Democratic blogger’s personal candidate preference to having any structural role in the future of the Democratic Party.

Again, either candidate will make history, so the choice comes down to a new paradigm — “change” — versus more of the same DLC style leadership we’ve been discontented with for so many years. Honestly, this is Joe Lieberman versus Ned Lamont.

No, it’s not. Clinton is not Joe Lieberman. Obama is not Ned Lamont. They have similar issue positions and voting records. No one has suggested Clinton be expelled from the Democratic Party, nor that Obama is a political outsider tapping into a strong anti-war sentiment.

Yes, Clinton is of the DLC. Yes, we’re discontent with that. But there’s no comparing the Obama paradigm of “change” – a vacuous and completely meaningless branding – with the actual, factual connections of Hillary Clinton to a brand of Democratic politics that I know I have major ideological differences. “Change” is so vacuous, Clinton is even using it herself. She has been labeled an “agent of change for 35 years,” whatever that means

Does it sound like I’m agreeing with Cesca on change vs. DLC? Sure, but only to the extent that I think the DLC brand of politics needs to be exiled from our party.* But I don’t know if “change” means “not the DLC” or “progressive, fighting Democrat.” It doesn’t – “change” means nothing. More importantly, what does Obama stand for? Is he more progressive than Clinton? Is he opposed to bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship? Will he fight for us? Nothing in the “change” brand tells me these things.

Worse, Obama has had a recent string of highly objectionable comments that suggest, like Clinton, a drift towards centrism and bipartisanship that runs counter to what the Democratic Party needs now. Praising Reagan, calling the GOP the “party of ideas,” and insinuating that his (independent and Republican) supporters won’t necessarily vote for Hillary Clinton if she were to win the nomination are all things that suggest Obama isn’t offering a new paradigm, let alone one that’s so substantially different from what Clinton offers as to be a foregone conclusion for progressive bloggers on the order of Lieberman v. Lamont.

Cesca concludes his post:

So it’s time to pick a side here, bloggers. Start off with, “While I will support the eventual nominee…” or, “While I admire [or respect] both candidates…” And go from there. We’ll all make nice after there’s an official nominee. Until then, it’s time to take a stand on this thing.

No, it’s not time to pick sides. Why in the world would bloggers eschew an endorsement when there was a diverse field with populist and progressive voices, but rush to endorse once it’s down to two choices? Speaking broadly, the two most progressive candidates (Edwards and Dodd) are out; the most adamant voices for ending the war (Richardson and Kucinich) are out; the most experienced candidate (Biden) is out. Given a choice between the two least experienced candidates with some of the most centrist rhetoric and records, why would progressive bloggers leap into this binary?

Both candidates have upsides for me in some areas, downsides in others. Both have serious unknowns that trouble me. In an email, Eli from Multi Medium captured the large narrative concerns about Clinton and Obama in a way that works well for me.

My biggest worry about Obama is that he will compromise rather than fight; my biggest worry about Hillary is that she will fight for the wrong things.

Given that dynamic, why would I** or any other blogger jump in with an endorsement?
I spent a lot of time on the Dodd campaign watching how bloggers were or were not endorsing. There was one thing in common – they endorsed when they whole-heartedly believed in the person they were endorsing, never a second before. Go read this list of endorsement posts and try to find one person who made their decision public because someone said, “You have to pick”. You won’t be able to (and I’ll note, we had some major bloggers endorse on that list).

People endorse because they believe in a candidate. Hell, go read Cesca’s passionate and thoughtful endorsement of Obama on Huffington Post. He didn’t write that post because someone told him to pick, finally. It’s disappointing that he is forcing a different standard on other big name bloggers.

In the end, though, Cesca’s call won’t matter much. A lot of Edwards supporters online are shifting towards Obama. To the extent that they believe Obama to be a better candidate and a better Democrat than Clinton, some bloggers will surely endorse him. I doubt it will make much of a difference and I would certainly urge caution when it comes to comparing Clinton and Obama to Lieberman and Lamont, no matter who you line up where.

* I don’t think Democratic bloggers endorsing a presidential candidate has any impact on the status of the DLC or their level of regard in the Democratic Party.

**I don’t consider myself to be a major blogger, let alone the sort of blogger Cesca would be waiting expectantly to endorse Barack Obama.